Tack­ling is part of the game and helps a child to build self-es­teem

There are risks in con­tact sports, but coached in the right man­ner, the ben­e­fits are there for all to see

The Sunday Telegraph - Sport - - Sport | Rugby Union - SIR IAN McGEECHAN

Imust ad­mit I found the calls this week to ban tack­ling in school­boy rugby to be thor­oughly dis­heart­en­ing. As a teacher of 20-odd years, I know the enor­mous value of coach­ing con­tact sports – not just rugby – and in my opin­ion the pos­i­tives mas­sively out­weigh the neg­a­tives. Not just in terms of health but in terms of con­fi­dence and self-es­teem.

Yes, there are risks at­tached to rugby. As there are with all con­tact sports. You will get the odd bro­ken bone. And, yes, chil­dren are get­ting big­ger and tackle tech­niques have changed, par­tic­u­larly at the elite end.

The in­tro­duc­tion of the new break­down laws has made it even more de­sir­able to hit squarer, chestto-chest rather than side on.

I un­der­stand the risk of head in­jury. Con­cus­sion was some­thing that, in my day, we did not fully un­der­stand and to which we prob­a­bly at­tached too lit­tle im­por­tance. It is a se­ri­ous is­sue.

But even al­low­ing for all of that, my ar­gu­ment would be that if you teach the proper tech­nique from the word go; if you pro­gres­sively in­tro­duce chil­dren to con­tact, then you re­duce the risk of in­jury to an ac­cept­able level and you give chil­dren some­thing far more important.

As with ev­ery­thing, it is about ed­u­ca­tion. And it is about ed­u­ca­tion from an early age. The ar­gu­ment that you should hold them back from con­tact un­til they are older is mis­guided. The older they are, the longer you leave it, the big­ger they are and the more dam­age they can do, par­tic­u­larly if they have not devel­oped the cor­rect tech­nique from a young age. There is less scope to man­age the tran­si­tion prop­erly. In my opin­ion nine, 10, 11 years old is a per­fect age to in­tro­duce tack­ling.

When I taught chil­dren, we would progress from kneel­ing-down tack­ling – with the head in the cor­rect po­si­tion behind the legs, us­ing the shoul­der to push – to walk­ing pace, then jog­ging then fi­nally sidestep­ping.

Tackle bags and shields are also an important part of the learn­ing process, and con­tinue to be so up to in­ter­na­tional level.

There are var­i­ous other tech­niques which help to phase in tack­ling. Us­ing a mat ini­tially. Or get­ting chil­dren to go barefoot. Not hav­ing stud­ded boots makes a huge difference to their con­fi­dence. The New Zealand method of group­ing chil­dren in terms of their size and phys­i­cal de­vel­op­ment rather than their age is just blind­ingly ob­vi­ous and it amazes me that we do not do that more over here with the mid­dleschool ages (11, 12, 13).

Clearly, tack­ling is not ev­ery­one’s cup of tea, and that is fine. No one should be forced to do it. But if done cor­rectly, there is no rea­son that chil­dren should be get­ting un­duly in­jured or quit­ting the sport be­cause they are mis­er­able. If they are it is the coaches who should be tak­ing a long, hard look at them­selves.

On the con­trary, chil­dren should grow in con­fi­dence, and also be­come more dis­ci­plined and re­spect­ful. You learn how to deal with pain and fear. You be­come aware of your lim­i­ta­tions. You learn the im­por­tance of tech­nique and team­work. It is all about in­still­ing the cor­rect tech­nique and mind­set.

As a small player my­self – 5ft 10in and un­der 12 stone – I worked in­cred­i­bly hard when I was com­ing through as a young fly-half and centre be­cause I re­alised it was an area our op­po­nents would try to ex­ploit and I did not want them to think they would have an eas­ier ride com­ing down my chan­nel. I had to get it right or I would be tram­pled over. By the time I played for Head­in­g­ley and later, for Scot­land and the Li­ons, I think that paid off.

Of course, there are times when it will go wrong. I have had a few trips to A&E with chil­dren. But again I would ar­gue that this can be a pos­i­tive, for both the coach and the child. You do not leave them on their own – you care for them and they see that. There is mu­tual re­spect there and they learn what not to do the next time. Be­sides, an arm in a plas­ter cast used to be a badge of hon­our back in my day.

Fun­da­men­tally, I be­lieve that tack­ling is a good healthy part of a broader sport­ing ed­u­ca­tion. I’m a big be­liever in a multi-sport ap­proach (I actually played rugby league up to the age of 11, and my first two loves were cricket and football). Phys­i­cal con­tact is a nat­u­ral part of that de­vel­op­ment process.When you walk out of the door there is dan­ger ev­ery­where. It is about how you man­age that dan­ger.

As I say, if taught right, I think the risks in­volved in tack­ling at school age are min­i­mal, ac­cept­able, cer­tainly when you are deal­ing with chil­dren of a sim­i­lar size rather than age. But it comes back to ed­u­ca­tion. There is nothing worse than seeing a child put off for life be­cause he or she has had a bad ex­pe­ri­ence. But con­versely – and I know this from ex­pe­ri­ence – there is nothing more re­ward­ing than seeing a child de­velop self-con­fi­dence and es­teem be­cause they have been prop­erly taught. The real tragedy would be to out­law a vi­tal part of the game, one that can be such a pos­i­tive one, purely be­cause it can­not be guar­an­teed to be

risk-free.

When you walk out of the door there is dan­ger wher­ever you look. It is about how you man­age that dan­ger

Child’s play: Nine, 10 or 11 years old is a good age at which to start in­struct­ing young­sters in the art of tack­ling

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